People are becoming more and more aware of environmental problems and social inequalities. For this reason, businesses are expected to prioritise corporate social responsibility. Consumers and employees prefer to support a company that makes CSR a core part of its business model.
Corporate social responsibility isn’t a passing trend. Business owners need to understand what corporate social responsibility means so they can bring their companies up to speed and benefit from a greener business model.
“CSR is the responsibility of enterprises for their impact on society.” EU Commission
What exactly is Corporate Social Responsibility?
One of the questions I hear most often is, what is corporate social responsibility? It’s an important question and you’re likely to get a slightly different answer each time you ask it.
In a nutshell, corporate social responsibility is the method that companies use to ensure that their business has a beneficial effect on society and the environment. Corporate social responsibility is not a legal requirement. Instead, it’s a voluntary effort made by businesses to support sustainable development. That includes maintaining ethical standards, operate well within legal boundaries, and minimising negative environmental impact. Corporate social responsibility programmes can be carried out locally, nationally, or internationally. When carried out successfully, CSR programmes can help a company obtain its goals and turn a profit whilst benefiting society.
According to the EU Commission, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is…
“a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis”
Companies have incorporated CSR into business in various ways depending on their structure and capabilities. Some prioritise fair labour and elevate working conditions, others focus on funding projects in local communities or implementing environmentally-friendly workplace practices.
Here are some examples of CSR in practice:
- Adopting green office practices. Companies that reduce office waste by giving a reusable water bottle to all employees or companies that sign up to corporate recycling programmes. Alternatively, green companies can support employees who commute to the office by public transport.
- Reducing the company’s carbon footprint by making offices, warehouses and company factories more energy-efficient, switching to renewable energy sources or producing products locally.
- Partnering a charitable organisation or donating a portion of the company’s annual income to non-profits or NGOs. Aside from financial donations, socially responsible companies can aid environmental or humanitarian causes by providing free marketing, donating sustainable gifts, or organising voluntary events in the local community.
- Providing safe working conditions and fair pay for employees. Including equal pay and opportunities for all genders and ethnicities.
- Registering sustainable products with trusted organisations such as Fair Trade International, Rainforest Allianz, and the Soil Association.
- Making socially and environmentally conscious corporate decisions, such as supporting local producers and investing in sustainable office equipment.
How can a CSR programme benefit your company?
CSR isn’t just about doing your part for the planet and society. Issuing a corporate social responsibility statement and putting it into action can greatly benefit your company. More and more consumers are willing to pay extra for sustainable products or buy from companies that are socially and environmentally conscious. An effective corporate social responsibility programme will, therefore, boost customer loyalty and elevate company image.
Likewise, most people prefer to work for a company whose values are in line with their own. This is especially true for millennials who, according to surveys, want to work for purpose-driven employers and will consider a company's values before accepting a job offer.
Most companies focus on four main CSR categories:
Ethical employment: Socially responsible companies should provide fair working conditions for their employees, this includes a safe working environment, a reasonable living wage, job security, and equal opportunities. These standards should be upheld regardless of where the company is physically based.
Charitable donations: Companies can demonstrate their commitment to social and environmental causes by making donations to NGOs, non-profits, or other community organisations. This can include financial support as well as services and products. Many companies now select a specific organisation, with whom the company's CSR statement aligns, and donate a percentage of annual profit.
Volunteering: Companies can build the brand image by giving their time at voluntary events and charitable fundraisers, or by organising a voluntary event such as a litter pick or ocean cleanup.
Green practices and policies: Although CSR focuses largely on societal impact, environmental responsibility shouldn’t be forgotten. A company can actively reduce its carbon footprint by adopting green office practices, reducing plastic waste, and investing in sustainability.
Whether you’re running a small start-up business or an international corporation, leaving a positive environmental, social, and economic footprint should be one of your top priorities.